Bring Out The Book Of The Law
Key Verse 8:6
“Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
In the last passage we studied, he tells us these words: “So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.” (7:5) It was God’s initiative to register the people by families. These families had returned to the land after an exile that had lasted more than 70 years. It was time to rebuild these families into the nation God had intended them to be— a nation of God’s people called to uphold and to proclaim the word of God to the whole world. They had once failed to do so. But now God was ready to reshape them yet again as he had done many times before— as an instrument in his redemption history. So Nehemiah saw that they registered by families, and restored to God’s purpose for them. Some were given to be priests, others were given to be Levites. Some were to be singers and others gatekeepers. Still others were to be temple servants. God had inspired Nehemiah to prepare them for temple worship. So he assembled them. The first assembly was to register them by families. The following assembly— found in Nehemiah 8:1— was to actual worship. It was the first step in rebuilding this shattered nation. Chapter 8 paints a remarkable and unique picture of worship— what worship is all about, and what true worship ought to be.
Chapter 8 is a detailed account of a day of worship in the lives of these returned exiles. They had rebuilt the walls. They had resolved some serious problems within their community, restoring their dignity as a people belonging to God. They had overcome the terrible persecution the enemies had launched against them. They had answered to God’s summons to register by families. And those whose families were associated with temple worship had been chosen from among them for worship service. Now it was time to conduct worship in the sight of God. This chapter depicts worship service as a 7 day celebration. It was the first public worship service they had as a people after the return of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls. The chapter describes the different aspects of their celebration in order or in succession. But for the sake of itemizing the elements of worship, it is necessary to examine the different events out of order within the worship service.
First, Worship begins with a desire for God and for the word of God. (1-3) Read verses 1-3. “They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses.” This was the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. It was the word of God whom God had given to Moses to pass on to the people when they had been wondering in the desert after their deliverance from slavery and before the conquest of the promised land. It was their Bible. The people who requested of Ezra the prophet to bring out the Bible were returned exiles. They were resettled in their land. They were home free. But nothing could replace God in their lives and in their hearts. Their hearts went out to God. They longed for God to be a part of their nation and a part of their own lives. In fact, they yearned for God to once again rule their hearts and their nation. They recognized that freedom for a nation is not enough— that a nation without God is still not free regardless of its sovereignty. It amazes us that when they were inspired to be rebuilt as a godly nation, their hearts first went out to God. And it amazes us that when their hearts yearned for God, they also longed for the word of God. David had once said: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Ps73:25) Likewise, these people’s hearts went out to God. And even the sweet taste of freedom could not replace the sweetness of God’s word in their lives.
The Law of Moses— the Bible— which they asked Ezra to bring out was not just a book. They has said: “Which the Lord had commanded also recognized that the Bible had been commanded for Israel.” They understood that the Bible was never to have been an option for them, but the word of God which God had commanded for them. it was out of his love that God had given them the Bible. They recognized that the Bible reflects God’s heart and mind and God’s most inmost thoughts. They understood that the Bible reveals God’s principles and values for their lives. That the Bible is more than a book of rules and regulations, but that it gives instructions on how to live a life pleasing to God. They were now ready to please God. They were now ready to draw near to God. And what better way to do so than to bring out God’s book— the Bible— and immerse themselves in it so as to once again live in God and with God. So the people longed for God and for his words. They asked Ezra to please bring out the Book of the Law which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
Second , Worship is listening to the word of God. (3-8) Verse 3b says: “and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. They not only listened to the word of God, but they listened attentively to it. In verse 8, the Levites “Read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” Verse 7 tells us that these Levites “instructed the people in the Law.” What is at the heart of worship? When the people gathered to worship God, at the heart of their worship was the word of God. They listened to the word of God. They read from the word of God. They were instructed in the word of God. And what they could not understand, was explained to them by those who had Spirit to interpret the word of God to them. Mostly, they were attentive to the word of God. The word of God was at the heart of their worship. How can a people worship God if there is no word of God to lead them and to guide them into worship? They cannot. The returned exiles deeply understood that it was because they had no word of God that they degenerated into a godless nation outwardly holding to the word of God, but inwardly ignorant of the word of God. Now God had brought them back. What should they do? They immersed themselves in the word of God. They let the word of God take its rightful place in their lives and in their hearts. At the heart of their worship, was the Almighty word of God. They listened to it not casually or conveniently, but attentively. They allowed their teachers to explain to them the word of God more fully so as to understand it, and by understanding it, to also have life. It was the instrument by which God would rebuild their lives and nation. Unless a people listen attentively to the word of God,
In the New Testament the apostle Peter taught us two imperative things about the word of God. In 2 Peter 1:19, he says: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Peter tells us that the word of God is like a light shining in a dark place— that if we let us shine in our hearts, it will lead us to the morning star— Jesus our Lord and Savior. Again Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:23, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” He tells us that in the word of God is the power of life, to bring a man or woman out of death into the eternal life which is in Christ Jesus. When we worship, it is not some motion or schedule that we must be attentive to. It is the word of God that we must attend to in our hearts. We must let the word of God lead us in worship— lead us to the heart of our precious and loving God.
Third , Worship is finding the will of God that we might obey it. (13-15; 16-17) The words in verse 14: “They found written in the Law.. that the Israelites were to…” When they were attentive to the word of God, they could listen to the word of God with clarity. And they could find out all that is in God’s heart and mind for them and for the world. In the word of God they could find his will. They could find out what pleases God. They could find out what God’s purpose for them was. They could find his hope for them and the world. When they were attentive to the word of God, they found out that exactly how God wanted them to celebrate now and in the future. And in verses 16-17, we witness them obeying that which they found out in the word of God. Remarkably, it was not a burden to find out all that God would have them do. Rather their obedience was a joyful obedience. Indeed the word of God reveals the heart and mind of God for his people. Paul understood the heart of God more than anyone else. He understood from Scripture that it was God’s desire to save the world, even the Gentiles. He found out in the word of God what God would have him do as an apostle and Bible teacher. He found out how he should treat with others in every day life. he found out that God wanted him to rejoice in his suffering. Indeed when he wrote the Ephesian church, he told them what he had applied to his own life, for he tells them “… Find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) Likewise, when we are serious about worship, and we listen attentively to the word of God, we too can find out what pleases the Lord, that we might also obey it. Through his words, God Almighty communes with his people, and speaks to their hearts one by one as a father or mother speak with their beloved children.
Fourth , Worship is conviction and response to the word of God. (9) In verse 9 we read: “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” How precious were these people. They were a people ready to listen attentively to the word of God. They were ready to find out what pleases God and to obey it. But they were also deeply convicted by the word of God. Their worship was not a formal get together nor a fashion show, nor simply a ritual. It was a communion with the Living God. They listened to his word and in his words they also found out their sins, and the way they had displeased him in their lives. But instead of being hardened as their forefathers had been, these were ready to be convicted by the word of God. Their hearts were not stone, but flesh. And their love for God went beyond simply listening to his words. In Ezekiel 11:19 God had promised to “[I will] give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” It had been a beautiful promise for anyone who was ready to come before God in holy worship and to listen to his words and be convicted by them.
When they were convicted, they did not become hardened nor did they justify their sins. Instead they mourned for their sins. They mourned because they had sinned against God and had not followed his words as they should. They mourned because they had loved God more than they loved their sins. They mourned because they knew that God is merciful and will forgive their sins and comfort their weeping hearts. Jesus our Lord blessed those who mourn saying: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In Acts when they people listened to the message Peter had given them about the Savior who died for their sins, their hearts were moved, and they mourned their situation, and asked what they were to do. Then Peter told them to repent. He knew that only repentance could quench that aching of repentance in their hearts. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) How precious is the word of God. How precious is the word of God which alone can convict the hearts of sinners by the Holy Spirit and make the heart respond to the word of God. And how precious are those who encourage us to repent so that our hearts may be refreshed by the working of the Lord and his Spirit.
Fifth , Worship is a purposeful event, a community event, and a physical event. (4-6) Of course worship is a spiritual event for our Lord Jesus taught us to worship God in spirit and in truth. But at the same time, worship is also a physical event involving our whole bodies. In other words, no one can say I worship God in my own way, and do not need to do anything in the sight of God or with others in order to please him. Look at verse 4. “built for that occasion” tells us that they had carefully planned to worship God. They had not spontaneously worshiped, but it was an event that had been purposeful. They purposed to worship God as all people ought to plan to worship God. From the commandments we know that God had set aside the Sabbath for worship. It was purposeful. God intended that we worship him. In verses 2 & 4 we also see that the worship was a community worship event including all the people as well as their leaders as well. In verses 5 & 6 we see that the people “stood up” that they “lifted their hands” that they “bowed down” That they shouted “Amen Amen.” It was a wonderful worship involving their hearts and minds and bodies as well. God wanted them to worship him with all that he had given them to worship him with. Their voices, their hands. They had musicians and singers and all. And everyone was involved, the people and their leaders, their teachers and their servants.
Read Acts 2:42-47. That’s a beautiful picture of worship in a fellowship of believers, which also explains the next element of aspect of worship well.
Sixth , Worship is a sacred, holy and joyful event of praise to God . (6, 9. 10-12, 18) According to Verses 10-12, worship is a joyful event before God— a celebration. It’s a celebration of praise to the Lord— the great God. (6) Worship is described as a sacred event— a holy events before the Lord. (9) We also consider worship to be a continuous event before God. (18) Jesus blessed the wedding at Cana in Galilee thus revealing the character of Christian life as akin to a wedding celebration. (Jn2) These people celebrated a feast in holy worship to God. But our celebration of worship is the Lord Jesus— for we celebrate his grace and truth, his holy word and the Spirit who guides us in his words and who explains to us all things. Truly, Christian life is a life of joy— of worship and praise to God who loved us and who gave his One and Only Son that we may not perish but have eternal life— who rescued us from the dominion of darkness and who brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Worship must involve all of us. And it must involve our hearts and minds and bodies. It fulfills our soul’s desire. It centers around the word of God, that we may rejoice in it and be led by it from day to day. May God bless our worship to always be a joyful praise to God, and a submission to his words.